Harper Glantz, 15 (my daughter,) and I were subjects in Cynthia Wade’s short film Selfie (created with support from Dove and the Sundance Institute) that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week. The following is a narrative account, by Harper in her own words, of being in the film and being confronted with the question “What is Beauty?”
“Please excuse the interruption. Will the following students please report to the main office: Harper Glantz…”
Wait, What? Harper Glantz? Harper Glantz? Staring expectantly at me, my math teacher was like, “Well, go ahead, Harper.”
I walked out of the class. Halls empty. I NEVER get called down to the office. My mind raced as I speed-walked towards the office from the F-wing.
I swung open the dated glass doors into the office entrance, “Um…I was called here…” The desk lady was like,”–Yeah, hon. Step right into that office, please. Nope, honey. That office.”
I had never known whose office this was. The door was always closed.
“Hi, you wanted to see me…?”
“–Yes! Hi, SO glad you could make it! Come grab a chair!”
(Should I introduce myself, or…Yeah, I’ll –)
“Hi, I’m Harper.”
“Yes, Harper Glantz, that’s right.” They said it as if correcting me.
There were two women with clipboards whom I had never seen before and they quickly started describing why they had come. They explained that they had gotten a grant from Dove to work on a short documentary, exploring definitions of beauty according to a group of high school girls and their mothers. They wanted to talk to us and our mothers about beauty, and they would be exploring this topic in part, through the “art” of selfies. Huh, selfies? Cool.
“We were just wondering which of you girls might be interested in being photographed and maybe interviewed with your moms for the film.”
Everyone was almost speechless, not quite making sense of it all until we went around the table. Responses varied:
“Um…I have to talk to my mom about it and stuff, first.”
“Yeah, totally! Like, I love being photographed!”
“What did you say this is for, again?”
The two women mentioned it would be premiered at Sundance film festival. I was immediately all in.
As I learned more, I felt amazingly surprised at the boldness and honesty of the project. And I realized what an existential question they raised, “What is Beauty?” I had never really thought about it. I knew people wanted to be beautiful. I could list things that are beautiful. But, what is it? I realized I didn’t know. As soon as I opened my mouth to answer, I realized the complexity and murkiness of the question.
I was interviewed with my mother, and we were asked stuff about what I had learned about beauty from her, and vice versa. It forced me to consider the truth — that her insecurities had become mine too. But she is just so beautiful, and people tell her she is strikingly so. I wish she could see herself without imaginary flaws. But then again, I can’t see myself that way either. Coincidence?
But what exactly is Beauty? From what I can manage, it seems that some beauty is not observed at a glance, but takes time to comprehend as we experience another person.
Beauty is something original and kind. What makes something beautiful is its ability to inspire. Beauty is what makes you feel beautiful.
Beauty is mistaken for a mask you can wear. We trick ourselves into putting on beautiful costumes, but maybe what makes make-up and silly clothes beautiful is their ability to make us feel beautiful, and so we are.
My mom is so beautiful, I’d rather hear that I look like her, than that I look beautiful. The associations we have with beauty, is what defines it. So, beauty is different for every person.
But it seems unanimous that Beauty is also being creative and compassionate.
The selfie component of the project created a device to self-appreciate and self-express on a more personal level than formal portrait photography. We were asked specifically to capture the aspects of our appearances that we normally hide from the camera because we were ashamed or embarrassed of them. For example, in photos I have always tried to hide the bulkiness of my arms.
It came to me standing in front of a mirror zipping and unzipping my sweatshirt, trying to expose my arms fully and snap a picture for the film. I should have just said I was self-conscious about my big toe. However, I didn’t realize what an obstacle I was overcoming by taking that picture.
Watching and being part of this process has incredibly impacted my general perspective, and has echoed louder and louder through many aspects of daily life. One small gesture which has specifically resonated is the following: I didn’t own any tank tops for the Selfie photo-shoot, so we actually had to go to great lengths to find one for me to wear in the pictures. Because of the way the experience changed the way I feel about my arms, a few days later I went with my mom and purchased a couple of tank tops, as an homage to the gods of filmmaking. Even as I wear them under a T-shirt, I feel the spirit of those women who stood behind the camera and told me I was beautiful, and so I smile.
The women I met made an immense impact on me because of their braveness in looking critically at the way beauty has been manifested in this culture. It was the first time I was confronted with a question of this caliber, realizing it was one I had avoided because it is sensitive. But I feel after going on this journey with them, my mom, and the other girls, I can walk a little taller and spread my arms out with pride.
I thank all of the people, male and female, who worked on this film, for opening my eyes to a confidence I never knew I had, and learning more about my mom and my friends so we can grow together as a community of women. We all need a boost of reassurance and appreciation in our lives, and they have given me mine on an extraordinary scale. What a beautiful thing they have done.